I am sitting in my hotel room trying to pack my bags and simultaneously unpack the conference. It’s an interregnum between being immersed in the society of the conference and the travel I must begin in a few hours to return to home. I’ve returned from many, many conferences. I know how to do this. But this time I think it will be harder. Home, my home campus, and my friends and colleagues will likely be much the same as when I left. But I’m not. I’m different.
When I get home, folks will assume the OpenEd16 conference I attended was about free textbooks and OER’s which they think they know about. It was and they do. They’ll think it was about technology – especially all that crazy tech they think they don’t understand (yet) but that I’m always going on about. It was and I’ll continue to go on about it.
But that’s not at all what this conference was really about. It was about insight (thank you Gardner Campbell!). It was about students. But it wasn’t about Students(tm), those commoditized abstract entities for whom we are supposed to provide Success(tm) so that they might assume their rightful place as cogs and consumers with Good Jobs(tm) in the neo-liberal globalized economy. It was about real students. Real people. Human students. Students in Sisyphean struggles to be human, support families, and to learn – often while being hungry and burdened with more debt. (thank you Sara Goldrick-Raab).
This conference wasn’t about technology or licenses or books. It was about us. Humans. There is much I still need to “process” so that I might integrate all I experienced. I say experienced because learn doesn’t seem adequate. A short, incomplete list of this conference for me would include
- discovering that I have a voice myself and that there are people who actually listen to me! At a very personal level I’m not willing yet to expose publicly, this is profound for me.
- connecting at a very basic human level with Kate Bowles of Australia and feeling at a visceral level how we are one people on one planet and borders don’t matter.
- realizing my struggles on campus are not isolated. Many others have the same struggles. It’s not me. It’s being pioneer.
- how we – us humans – really progress and grow. We model for each other. Consciousness matters and we progress is possible if we reflect. I thank Martin Weller for modelling and reflecting on how those of us who are privileged, like myself, need to behave.
- The opportunity to meet, exchange ideas, have fun, and just be humans with so many people that I’ve met only once before maybe or have only known a year or so. People who now seem to be such good friends that I can hardly remember not knowing them or having their ideas in my world: Robin DeRosa, Scott Robison, Alan Levine, Gardner Campbell, Tom Woodward, Adam Croom, and, of course, Laura Gogia and others.
- just the overwhelming number of people who I knew only via the Web but now have had the privilege and luxury of knowing in person such as Ken Bauer, Tim Owens, Lauren Brumfeld, Martin Weller, Kate Bowles, Audrey Watters, Lee Skallerup-Bessette, Jon Becker, and again many others.
- the vast numbers of Canadians including Irwin Defries and the whole crew from British Columbia who show what can happen when folks at different institutions really collaborate (politely, of course!)
- the number of new people I met and now share bonds with.
This conference was really about inclusion, insight, humanity, empathy, learning, and love. It was not as much a celebration of the commons as a loud voice proclaiming our commonality as humans and our connected diverse strengths. As Tom Woodward put it (or he quoted, I don’t know), it was about who owns how you move through the world’ power structures & understanding your position within & how to navigate through them
It is sad that the values or goals that the mainstream leadership of higher education claims to be pushing us to achieve exist largely only as abstract concepts – the picture of learning that Gardner referenced. While this wonderful assemblage of people, most of whom are considered too fringe to be taken seriously at their home campuses, are actually creating the real things: inclusion, insight, creativity, humanity. Those who were not part of this misunderstand. It was not technology and free books. It was precisely what they claim they want.
I have long thought that the measure of great rhetoric is that the listener cannot ever be the same person again. I cannot be the same again. I am changed. Thank you my friends and colleagues for doing this. In particular, I want to thank Gardner Campbell and Sara Goldrick-Raab for their book-ending keynotes and their rhetoric.
But alas, I must now face the trek to home and back to work where they will likely once again look at me like I am from Mars and politely humour me. It will be hard.